"Good team, eh?" Chelsea's manager, Carlo Ancelotti, had said with a smile when taking the unusual step of publicly naming his side 24 hours before yesterday's game. Good, yes, as 21 goals against one in five successive League victories had illustrated; but second best here as Manchester City ended that run by again beating the team their own manager had said would win the Premier League "easy".
It had been billed as the champions' first real test of the season against a side who did the double over them last term, and they flunked it. If the defence was sound, with John Terry untroubled by the predictable abuse on Wayne Bridge's home ground, the real difference and disappointment was at the other end.
Three forwards who went into the game with 17 goals between them did not once threaten another one. Didier Drogba had one of those frustrating days, spending too much time on the floor, and ended up being hauled off with quarter of an hour to play; and a header by the right-back Branislav Ivanovic against the bar was the only moment of concernfor Joe Hart between City's posts.
Chelsea weigh in as the biggest and heaviest side in the League but City stood up to them in some shuddering collisions, no one more so than Nigel de Jong, whose challenges this time were generally more legitimate than for Holland against Spain in the World Cup final. Carlos Tevez rivalled his team-mate for individual honours and claimed more headlines with the only goal, scored following an exciting burst from his own half that finally brought the game to life.
That was the first time this season Chelsea had been behind and the response was surprisingly muted. By the end they were reduced to withdrawing Drogba, and sending on a 17-year-old waif in Josh McEachran. Still Hart was not given a save to make.
Blackpool last weekend had tried, initially, to defend against them, Wigan to take them on. City, with greater quality at their disposal thanks to Sheikh Mansour's generosity, came up with a winning blend of the two ideals, all backed up by Roberto Mancini's work ethic. Invited afterwards to make all sorts of promises about how City could challenge for the title, his key point was: "This can help us understand that if people work hard they work well."
Chelsea therefore found themselves pressured all over the pitch in a manner that future opponents would do well to replicate. Marseille in the Champions' League at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday have the first opportunity and will find Ancelotti's squad again lacking Frank Lampard, Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou. Although all three should be fit after the next international break, Lampard's goalscoring potential would have been invaluable yesterday with the attack misfiring so badly; or, more precisely, not firing at all.
Mancini has not changed his mind that they are the most likely title winners, but Manchester United, who can cut Chelsea's lead to one point today, will take heart from this result. For City themselves, the principal doubt about a work still in progress concerns the number of goals they will score. Tevez might chant at Chelsea "Can we play you every week?" – he has six goals against them in his past five appearances – but while Emmanuel Adebayor is left in the dugout, he is still too often the only man in the opponents' penalty area. Mancini, blessed like England with an abundance of wide men, is keen to use two of them, so Tevez needs help from a midfield trio who are essentially defensive.
For a long time, all this pressing did not make for much of a spectacle, since the home side were finding little room to work in either half. By half-time, there was only one highlight for Sky Sports to dwell on, which came in the 27th minute. Florent Malouda received a short corner from Drogba on the left and feinted to return it before chipping beyond the far post where one tall defender, Alex, nodded across goal for another, Ivanovic, whose header rebounded to him off the bar. Unable to put sufficient power into the second one, he allowed Hart a comfortable catch.
Fear that both managers would be happy enough with a draw were allayed by a brighter period immediately after the interval. Nicolas Anelka's one shot of the afternoon against his former club was probably going wide before Hart pushed it for a corner, from which Michael Essien headed over. Then Petr Cech was required to make an authentic save low at his near post from David Silva, and four minutes later came a goal.
Tevez was in his own half when the busy Yaya Touré won possession and sent him away. Chelsea unwisely backed off and when Ashley Cole attempted a block on the shot that arrived from some 20 yards out, the ball zipped through his legs and past a possibly unsighted Cech.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: De Jong
Match rating: 7/10